Mary Lou Martell put it off as long as she could. But she finally had to head to Memphis for an anniversary vigil at Elvis Presley's grave.
"It's my first Elvis Week. I'm a little ashamed to say that, but it is," Martell, 60, said as she took part in a candlelight procession to Presley's grave at Graceland, his former Memphis residence. "We watched it on the computer last year and I finally said, `I have to be part of that.'"
The procession, called the "Candlelight Vigil," drew several thousand Elvis fans who lined up in the street in front of Graceland for a single-file procession up a long, winding driveway to his grave in a small garden.
Fans weren't scared away by an intermittent drizzle during the vigil, which began at 9:30 p.m. EDT.
"We're doing fine," Martell said, peeping out from the hood of a plastic parka. "It's just for Elvis we stay out doing this."
The vigil, which runs into the early morning, is the highlight of a weeklong series of fan-club meetings, dances and Elvis-impersonator contests to commemorate the anniversary of his death. He died of heart disease and drug abuse at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977. He was 42.
Martell of Dunkirk, N.Y., said she visits Graceland often but avoided Elvis Week in the past because of the crowds. She came early for her first graveside vigil, though, setting up a lawn chair at 9 a.m. at Graceland's front gates.
Many Elvis pilgrims return each year, and the graveside vigil draws visitors from around the world. But it's largely ignored by Memphis residents.
Jennifer Hobson, 29, of Memphis and a group of hometown friends formed a "Blue Hawaii" club to try to change that and sent out vigil invitations to their friends.
The group set up a small canvas canopy in the street in front of Graceland and decorated it with inflatable palm trees, blue lights and an Elvis bust sporting a blue lei.
"This is part of our city," Hobson said, "but when we come down here, we rarely see people we know. Y'all need to come out."
Hobson said the group had to leave some decorations at home because of the rain.
"I have a velvet Elvis, but because of the rain we couldn't bring out all of our good stuff," Hobson said.
Graceland supports a sprawling complex of souvenir shops, and fans waiting for the procession packed the stores pouring over Viva Las Vegas bobble head dolls for $19.99, Burning Love scented candles for $14.99, Jailhouse Rock T-shirts for $24.99 and hundreds of other Elvis-flavored gifts and do-dads.
Nancy Rooks, a former Graceland cook, was set up at a souvenir shop table to sell her book, "Elvis' Maid Remembers," and talk with fans.
Generally, the 71-year-old Rooks said, the fans ask about Elvis' personal habits, when he went to bed, when he got up, what he liked to eat.
"I tell them he ate breakfast at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, but then he'd eat dinner at 1 o'clock at night," she said. "We always had a meat loaf cooked, just in case he wanted it. If he didn't want meat loaf, then we knew to give him roast beef. He liked soul food."
Fans Ignore Rain For Vigil 2008August 16, 2008 | Book Source:Associated Press
Jumpin Jehosaphat wrote on August 16, 2008
Why buy all this junk in the shops at graceland, money better spent on original records and programs prior to 1977. because that is from his lifetime. because the good stuff is getting harder and harder to find in good condition, and thats what is all about.
mature_elvis_fan75 wrote on August 17, 2008
Why? because too many would rather have Elvis towels than his music,not too mention how many have no clue there is a collectors label!
Steve V wrote on August 17, 2008
Exactly why Elvis fans are ridiculed and his music isnt taken as seriously as say the Beatles or Dylan. It can never be discussed as seriously with bobble-heads & candles and guys dressed in jumpsuits. Jeez what an industry.
circleG wrote on August 17, 2008
Keep the cook, ban the rest.
vegaselvisfan wrote on August 17, 2008
there are collector sales booths at the clarion and the airport inn. but the items are rare, expensive and most fans cannot relate to these items. i am a big collector, my roomate while in memphis is not and she bought only a few things at the collector stations. i bought some vegas things and many books and was very happy! yes, we shopped elsewhere for tshirts and other 'fun' items. i do not enjoy the toys like bobble heads, but yes i ll buy jewelry and pins and purses. there is something for every fan in memphis, and the 'toy' stuff started in 1956 with colonel parker. elvis is not just music , he is an image. and people are attracted to that. during the fan club president event, when we saw some of the new products that licensing had approved: jumpsuit mickey mouse, m&m characters, a cute mouse... some of us BOO'ED. now that's a job i want: approving the products. there are so many items i would stamp a big red NO. the great things like FTDs are not pointed out to the media. it's always about kicking a good man down: ELVIS and his FANS. why are we put down? **we are too obvious with the feelings we have for the man.** we arent cool, sitting and smoking cigarettes (or drugs) listening to the music, maybe snapping our fingers, like for the rat pack or the big icons of rock. elvis stopped having a 'rebel' image after the army. he never meant to be a rebel. he appeals to a broad spectrum of people and that is reflected in his fans. many fans won't pay $50 for items from tunzi, elvis unlimited, or FTD. even i had a few heart attacks for prices in memphis and considered the things i purchased. if only the products you guys approve were out there, if we did not have elvis week (where we where our hearts on our sleeves for the man) how do you think it would be? unfortunately, media is always attracted to the negative, not the positive. what's your dream of a perfect elvis world? and what are you doing to make it happen besides complain? :) how about going to memphis with a sign and admonishing all the fans and products and hoopla you hate? ;)
vegaselvisfan wrote on August 17, 2008
can elvis fans find FTD at walmart? no. how many elvis fans are on the internet? not all of them. they do not know of these great things like special CDs, books, and DVD documentaries like 'Return to Tupelo'.
Lefty wrote on August 18, 2008
I've always appreciated the comments made by ponygirlup. And here again, I find myself thinking, "yeah, that's right." Anyway, I think that Elvis would be just fine with the marketing of his image, or he simply wouldn't care. Either way, there is evidence of this seen in the Super Souvenir's that were endlessly hawked at his concerts. The posters, photo albums, scarves, belt buckles and binoculars were cheaply made and cheesy. Pretty much like most of the stuff you can buy today. I also think that hardcore fans eventually find FTD. Heck, we find the boots, and they're even harder to come by especially, if you live in the U.S. A lot of fans don't want to pay upwards of $30 for a soundboard, or a remake of a CD they've owned for years. The FTD market is indeed exclusive. I've never been to the "vigil" and I will never go. The concept kind of gives me the creeps, but I do understand the need for some people to pay homage and respect to Elvis in that way.
Ruthie wrote on August 21, 2008
Were they at the same vigil? It poured practically all day into evening. It wasn't raining at 9:30. The opening ceremony began at 8:30. At 8:20 we took our places & by 8:35 the rain had stopped. I was there until 3:30 AM & it didn't drizzle again until around 2:30 when the last of the crowd was leaving. As for all the shops & some of the junk sold there, that debate will continue as long as there are Elvis fans.